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Darcy & Elizabeth: Hope of the Future: Darcy Saga Prequel Duo Book 2

Sharon Lathan

  Darcy & Elizabeth: Hope of the Future

  Darcy Saga Prequel Duo Book 2

  Sharon Lathan

  “Darcy & Elizabeth: Hope of the Future”

  Copyright © 2017 by Sharon Lathan

  Front and Back Cover, and internal design © 2017 by Sharon Lathan

  Front Cover portrait in public domain - “Newly Married” by William Arthur Breakspeare (date unknown). Back cover images licensed through Adobe Stock.

  All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means including information storage and retrieval systems—except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews—without permission in writing from its publisher Sharon Lathan

  This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only, and may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each person. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author. To obtain permission to excerpt portions of the text, please contact the author at [email protected]

  The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious or are used fictitiously. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental and not intended by the author.

  Edited by Gretchen Stelter

  Published by Sharon Lathan

  Created with Vellum


  Books by Sharon Lathan


  Hope for a Different Future

  1. Optimistic Expedition

  2. Unforeseen Complication

  3. Invigorating Interaction

  4. Illuminative Conversation

  5. Aristocratic Reception

  6. Capital Exploration

  7. Sensational Revelation

  8. Festive Commemoration

  9. Relative Transition

  10. Dramatic Interruption

  11. Significant Introspection

  12. Supreme Temptation

  13. Matrimony Finalization

  A Hopeful Future Begins

  About Sharon Lathan

  A Season of Courtship

  The Darcy Saga Sequel Series

  Miss Darcy Falls in Love

  The Passions of Dr. Darcy

  Books by Sharon Lathan

  * * *

  The Darcy Saga “Pride & Prejudice”

  Sequel Series

  Mr. & Mrs. Fitzwilliam Darcy: Two Shall Become One

  Loving Mr. Darcy: Journeys Beyond Pemberley

  My Dearest Mr. Darcy

  In the Arms of Mr. Darcy

  A Darcy Christmas

  The Trouble with Mr. Darcy

  Miss Darcy Falls in Love

  The Passions of Dr. Darcy

  The Darcy Saga Prequel Duo

  Darcy & Elizabeth: A Season of Courtship

  Darcy & Elizabeth: Hope of the Future


  To my wonderful husband, Steve.

  He is my Mr. Darcy,

  and without him I would not have

  survived my rough times.

  * * *

  To Regina Jeffers, my dear friend,

  and Austen Authors partner.

  She stood by me when others did not.

  Constant, faithful, and supportive;

  she taught me what true friendship is.

  I can never thank her enough,

  and will cherish her friendship forever.

  Hope for a Different Future


  Rosings Park, Kent

  Early October in 1816

  The candle’s flame licked the tip of the stick, melting the gold wax into a shining rivulet whirling into a blob over the paper’s seam. The engraved end of a brass seal flattened the hot wax, and a steady pressure was maintained to ensure Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s insignia hardened into a defined shape. The Earl of Matlock would recognize his sister’s seal, and the gold wax was chosen to emphasize the critical nature of the letter, guaranteeing he would open the correspondence forthwith.

  While waiting for a servant to respond to her summons, Lady Catherine crossed to the window for a visual reappraisal of her only child’s condition.

  Anne de Bourgh lay on a cushioned swing secured to a branch of an ancient oak. One corner of the blanket draping Anne’s thin legs fluttered as the bench gently swayed, the movement a result of the intermittent pushes by her companion Mrs. Jenkinson. The latter read aloud from a book in her lap.

  Probably one of those novels Anne gravitates toward, Lady Catherine brooded.

  Anne’s eyes were closed, thick black lashes a stark contrast to her pale cheeks. If not for an occasional smile curving her bloodless lips in response to the recited story, Lady Catherine would have concluded her daughter asleep. Worse than the corruption of Anne’s mind by the nonsense in a novel, the sun’s position had shifted since Lady Catherine’s previous inspection, and the swing was no longer fully in the shade. Rays of sunlight beamed between the leaves to touch Anne’s chalky forehead and one translucent eyelid. Angrily pursing her lips, Lady Catherine clasped onto the window’s latch, but, in mid-twist, a footman entered the room.

  “You rang, my lady?”

  “Obviously,” she snapped. Delaying the order of Anne back into the house, she stepped away from the unopened window and extended the sealed envelope. “This is to be sent with due haste and delivered directly into the hands of the Earl of Matlock in London.”

  The footman promised to carry out the instructions—Lady Catherine ignored his pointless toadying—and then pivoted smartly. Halfway to the door, he stopped and turned back around. “The Countess of Starkley’s carriage has entered the drive, your ladyship. Shall I escort her directly into the parlor?”

  Expression bland yet somehow conveying her contempt—as per design—Lady Catherine peered at the servant in silence until a swift darting of his eyes to the side signaled her message of disapproval had been received. Speaking with a practiced blend of condescension and menace, she asked, “Is Lady Starkley not invited to Rosings Park as my guest today?”

  “Yes, my lady.”

  “Would you deem it appropriate to have her wait in her overheated carriage on the drive? Or perhaps you considered relegating her to the library or butler’s pantry? Or were you intending the upstairs loo?”

  Stiffly he bowed, wisely not attempting a rebuttal. “I shall see to Lady Starkley’s swift arrangement and every satisfaction, your ladyship.”

  “See that you do. Tea and refreshments as well. And mind that the other matter is not forgotten,” she concluded, pointing at the letter he held before turning away dismissively. The footman would complete her orders or soon be seeking a new employer…without a reference.

  Returning to the window, she reached for the latch but paused before twisting open. Anne had shifted position on the swing and tilted her face to bathe in the sunlight. A hint of pink colored Anne’s cheeks and moisture sparkled prettily across her brow, but the brightness accentuated the sharp bones under her translucent skin. The picture was a tragic mixture of delicate loveliness and infirm fragility.

  “Oh! My poor, darling girl! Who will care for you when I am gone?”

  Trembling fingertips pressed against her lips, and for a moment—only a moment—she was nothing more than a mother filled with despondency for her child. As swiftly as it came, t
he despondency disappeared, replaced in a heartbeat with fury directed solely at her nephew Fitzwilliam Darcy.

  How could he behave so heartlessly? How could he ignore his duty? How could he choose that woman over Anne?

  “Catherine, leave the window latched!” a female voice bellowed. “The air today is a miasma determined to congest my chest and curdle my blood. I daresay the noxious vapors forced me to breathe through my handkerchief from the carriage to your door! I nearly succumbed and shall wheeze for hours. Why drivers cannot halt a carriage without stirring up the dust, I’ll never understand.”

  “Your ladyship, Lady Starkley has arrived—”

  “I am quite aware of Lady Starkley’s presence.”

  A curt flick of her fingers sent the footman scurrying for the door, but his escape was not speedy enough to evade Lady Starkley’s extensive order for refreshments. Delivered as vociferously as her dire health predictions a moment ago, she displayed no outward signs of diminished lung capacity. On the contrary, while well into her sixtieth year with graying hair and spidery wrinkles on her face, the countess appeared the picture of health. Lady Catherine usually tolerated her friend’s obsessive preoccupation with illness, but today there were urgent matters to report. No time to spare discussing her aches and afflictions.

  “Millicent, my friend, sit and be comfortable,” Lady Catherine sweetly interjected, hoping to stay Lady Starkley’s complaint-laden monologue, adding a second dismissive gesture toward the lingering footman. “I already ordered tea to be brewed, the restorative herbal concoction that heals your pains, and the sweets best for regaining your strength. You are quite pale, poor dear. Was the road from London especially treacherous?”

  “Indeed! You know how they claim to maintain the roads, Catherine, increasing the toll fees and taxing us blind, yet the conditions remain appalling.”

  Emitting a strained grunt as she sat on the settee, Lady Starkley continued to grouse while drawing an enamel-painted vinaigrette from within the ruffles of her fichu. Flipping open the glazed, jeweled lid, she waved the perforated cover under her nose and inhaled. “Rosemary, mint, and hyssop,” she explained, not that Lady Catherine had asked. “Another of Dr. Higgins’ miracle concoctions.”

  Lady Catherine attempted to maintain a neutral expression, but an uncontrollable facial contortion of some sort must have snuck through.

  “Disapprove if you must, Catherine,” Lady Starkley chided. “One day you shall admit what I and many others have learned: Dr. Higgins has a gift for creating medicinals. His Tears of the Poppy elixir has eliminated all my tremors! And his blemish salve, la Veloutine, has erased years of careworn lines from my visage.”

  “Be that as it may, he is no more a doctor than I am. That is the source of my disapproval. People should not claim to be what they are not, especially in exalting themselves to a station above what is divinely accorded.”

  “Now, now, Catherine. Dr. Higgins boasting his credentials, if he is—and I’m not conceding the allegation—would be nothing more than clever marketing. What this Miss Bennet is attempting with your nephew Mr. Darcy is detestable. Wholly unacceptable! This is why I was eager to assist in preventing such a travesty. These disturbances in the natural, God-ordained social order must stop, or the world shall fall into chaos! It is our Christian duty, as those whom I spoke to agreed.”

  Unable to sustain her rigid pose of self-possession, Lady Catherine dropped into the sofa across from Lady Starkley and leaned forward. “Tell me!”

  At that moment, the footman reappeared with the tea and treats. Setting gingerly onto the low table between the two ladies, he proceeded to serve them as if each piece of the tea service weighed a hundred pounds!

  Why does such an ordinary, oft-repeated procedure take so long to complete? Lady Catherine wanted to scream. Then, augmenting her stress, Lady Starkley insisted upon drinking half of her tea and consuming three sweet cakes before uttering a single word. Finally satisfied, the countess launched into her tale, between delaying bites and sips.

  “Alas, the ladies of substance abiding in Town this time of year are woefully lacking. Most are off to the country, resting in peace and celebrating Michaelmas.”

  Lady Starkley paused to sigh pitifully, Lady Catherine ignoring the melodrama. With no sympathy forthcoming, Lady Starkley resumed, after an extended sniff from her vinaigrette.

  “I despaired of our solemn task bearing fruit. Those available were thrilled to meet with me, naturally. My august presence was a welcome intrusion into their boredom. In fact, one and all were effusive in their delight, so much so that I was guilt ridden to pass on such horrific news! As often as I repeated the scandal of Mr. Darcy’s betrothal to this Miss Bennet, knowing the truth of it, my dear Catherine, as you do not possess the ability to tell a falsehood or hurt a living soul without just cause, the greater the shock of it sunk into my heart. I daresay, if not for my unwavering trust in you, I would not have entertained the notion of Mr. Darcy—a fine, upstanding gentleman of breeding—stooping so low as to ask the hand of such a creature! It was this conviction which enabled me to convince our esteemed coterie of the truth and of the necessity to do all in our power to prevent his marriage.”

  It was Lady Catherine’s turn to sigh. She relaxed into the cushions, a tiny stream of tension leaving her body. The scheme to break Mr. Darcy’s engagement to Elizabeth Bennet was well underway, but not yet accomplished unless something positive had transpired in the two days since the countess had quit London. Lady Catherine could not afford to relent in her quest, for Anne’s sake.

  “So they agreed to disseminate the details of this ghastly affair?”

  “With passionate resolve! Upon my word, once informed of the situation, I could not have stopped any of our friends had I exerted my towering influence to do so. Rest assured, Catherine, though small in number, down to the last they are on your side, which is, needless to say, on the side of righteousness. You have, I presume, written to Lord Matlock?”

  “Yes. Thrice. I am unclear as to my brother’s precise schedule, but in his last letter from Bath, he alluded to returning to London by the middle of October. He and Lady Matlock were not in residence when you left?”

  “Not unless we passed each other upon the bridge crossing the Thames. Be encouraged on that front, my friend. His lordship cannot possibly see the advantage of such a union. He shall support your cause, I am sure of it.”

  “I wish I could be as confident. Forever has my brother been contrary, and he was a great friend to James Darcy. I fear his fondness for our nephew may sway his opinion.”

  “Pray it isn’t so!” Lady Starkley appeared severely stricken at the possibility. Withdrawing a fan from her reticule, she flipped it open and began waving it vigorously before her face. “What are we coming to as an advanced society? I can hardly bear it and wonder if I am not blessed to be in waning health to avoid long years of witnessing the further degradation of our core values. If a worthy man of the gentry like Mr. Darcy of Pemberley can fall to the seductions of an ill-bred country chit, who is safe? How can a man of his caliber be so heartless to Miss de Bourgh and shirk his sworn duty?”

  Lady Starkley’s query, the words nearly identical to the questions Lady Catherine had thought minutes before the countess’s arrival, brought all her anger rushing to the surface.

  “I wish I could comprehend his actions myself,” she roared, launching up from her seat. Fists clenched, she stormed to the window. Relief to find that Anne and Mrs. Jenkinson were gone—hopefully indoors where it was cool and protected—had limited effect on her roiling emotions. “For years I have been the saint of patience, Millicent, and what has it gotten me? For two years after Darcy’s father died I said nothing, waiting as he grieved and adjusted to his new role as Master of Pemberley. Then, when I gently reminded him of the earnest wish of his mother, my sister, bless her soul, to marry my Anne and of the arrangement agreed upon by all, he refused to acknowledge it.”

/>   “Believing his refusal to commit to Anne and fulfill his promise was merely a request for more time to sow his wild oats, as the saying goes, I politely dropped the subject. I understand that young men require a period of recklessness and freedom before settling down. Not that the matrimonial state inhibits most men from satisfying wandering lusts and selfish needs for entertainment elsewhere. We both know this truth from personal experience.”

  Lady Starkley nodded gravely, although without a trace of judgment or disapproval. Lady Catherine, preoccupied with her irritation, barely noticed.

  “How long was Anne supposed to wait? A man can take his time, age not affecting him as profoundly. Women are not as fortunate. My poor Anne, forced to pretend she was not heartbroken to see her youth slip away, all while the man promised to protect her, to give her a future and a family, ignores his duty to family and our rank. Oh! The shame of it!”

  “Did he show no remorse? No heart when you pleaded with him?”

  Lady Catherine hesitated before turning away from the window. The countless exchanges with Darcy regarding Anne flashed through her mind, particularly the most recent one in the Darcy House billiard room after leaving her distasteful audience with Elizabeth Bennet in Hertfordshire. Lady Catherine shuddered at the memories, not quite sure which one caused her the most pain and outrage. Over the years each conversation with her nephew had grown increasingly hostile. Darcy rigidly maintained that he and Anne had no affection for each other and that any “arrangement” agreed upon had no hold upon him.